The start of a new near can be an ideal time to re-focus, set new goals and expand our vision. Although set with good intentions, our focus can easily waver, the perceived goal appears too far in the distance, and so we loose sight of it.
As humans, we are visual creatures, our eyes and awareness are delighted by external stimuli. The gaze wanders and takes our attention with it. Where we focus our attention is also where we focus our energy.
Being on our yoga mat is no different, we are surrounded by distraction: by cool yoga pants, by the person beside us, thinking about how we look in a pose, by our own clothes, the state of our toe nails, the fluff on our pants, ...the list is endless, and it distracts us from the yoga.
Whether meditating, moving or breathing, in order to maintain a steady focus, we use one of yoga's most fundamental principles: DRISHTI. Gradually learning to control and direct our focus; first of all by directing the eyes, and then allowing the attention to follow. Put simply, drishti is a technique that uses a specific gazing point for the eyes to control the attention of the mind, and to consciously direct our energy.
One of yoga's modern fathers, B.K.S Iyengar, said that “the eyes play a predominant part in the practice of asanas" however, it's not strictly limited to asana. The Sanskrit origins of the word itself can also be translated into a vision, a point of view, or intelligence and wisdom, therefore it can serve us in our practice not just as a tool to focus, but also as a metaphor towards a collective awareness of unity. Drishti helps not only to soften how we see things, but allows us to see the bigger picture - moving beyond perceived limitations in our field of vision; incorporating other yogic principles such as pratyahara (sense withdrawal), and dharana (concentration).
So now you may be wondering just where to look! Although there are specific points on which we can focus in certain postures, it's important not to be forceful - your gaze will develop over time with your practice. Using a fixed gaze point will enhance steadiness in the posture - especially when balancing - providing that it doesn't compromise or strain other parts of the body (most notably the neck).
Here are few suggestions to try when you next practice:
Thumb: Urdvha Hastasana (Upward Salute) | Tip of the Nose Urdvha Mukha Svanasana (Upward Facing Dog), Bhujangasana (Cobra) and other backbends such as Camel and Upward Bow, as well as Uttansana (standing forward fold) | Hand: Trikonasana (Triangle), Parvokanasana (Extended Side Angle) | Toes: seated forward facing postures (look beyond the state of your toes themselves) | Eyebrow Centre: During Meditation or Pranayama
These are just a FEW, keep in mind that the point itself is not important as long as your attention is earnestly focused inward with a sense of softness. Try it out and notice if your vision, your mind or your practice becomes just a little bit clearer.